Facing up to the huge rhinoceros in the room

By Lin Yaw-sheng 林耀盛  / 

Mon, Jan 07, 2013 - Page 8

When media monopolization becomes an ideological apparatus, information goes in just one direction instead of being communication through meaningful symbols.

The so-called “public” is no longer viewed as a social phenomenon made up of heterogeneous groups, but becomes an inert homogenous entity shaped by the flow of mass information.

Despite this, university students have recently gathered together and turned into a new social force that is resisting the silence of the general public in an attempt to stop the disastrous ramifications that media monopolization could have on Taiwanese society.

The play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, a playwright of the Theater of the Absurd, is about a small town in which two rhinoceroses suddenly appear. These two rhinoceroses do not disturb the everyday lives of the town’s residents, but, after a while, the number of rhinoceroses continues to multiply.

As the number of animals increases, the residents of the small town gradually move from initially fearing the rhinoceroses to relating to them and eventually praising them.

The protagonist of the play later discovers that his neighbors, friends, work colleagues and his lover have turned into rhinoceroses and that he is the only human left in town. He is faced with the choice of either staying as the sole human or to becoming a rhinoceros like everyone else.

Ionesco’s Rhinoceros can be viewed as a modern adaptation of themes found in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

What is most alarming about the way everyone in Ionesco’s play turns into rhinoceroses is that it has nothing to do with their social class.

There are a number of reasons why this could happen.

One reason could be the depletion of language and thought, which can be seen when a government rules a country through maxims and slogans, or it could also be because people are pursuing social Darwinism, as can be seen when someone tries to gain political power by any means necessary.

It could also be that people have adopted an anti-civilization mindset, as evidenced in the consumerist logic reflected in a culture that craves the reporting of scandals.

People are generally lazy when it comes to thinking and analyzing, so when they are in a situation where they find themselves inundated by a huge flow of information and do not know what to do with all the forms of media available to them, alienation between people increases.

French theorist Guy Debord believed that to reform a society, people need to overcome apathy, false impressions and the fragmentation caused by spectacles, and that this was the only action that could be taken to improve human existence.

Resistance is not something that is just expressed in people’s actions; it is also expressed in people’s spiritual lives and their social expressions, such as writing, theorizing and art. Even if resistance is the “future of an illusion” — as Sigmund Freud defined it — one must remain hopeful, for one will have to continue resisting in the future.

If society lacks awareness and ideals, everyone will end up as a bunch of rhinoceroses.

Lin Yaw-sheng is a professor of psychology at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Drew Cameron